Hot stamping has become one of the most common methods to print designs onto a variety of materials. Mid-Atlantic Packaging offers it as one of our custom printing methods for bags and boxes – and you can even do hot foil stamping at home with the right equipment. So what is hot stamping and why is it so popular? Let’s look at the basics of this relief printing technique.

Hot Stamping Machines

Reasons to Use Hot Stamping
The hot stamping process involves heating up a die or engraved image and then forcing it down against an item with a marking foil in between. The foil is transferred wherever the die meets the item. Most printers use a hot stamping machine for plastic, but it is also effective for paper and wood. While the process is longer and more expensive than screen printing, it has a number of advantages. It’s a dry process, which reduces the risk of mixed inks and bleeding. Hot foil stamping is also incredibly long-lasting – the design and color will stay true through conditions that would ruin lesser prints.

Types of Hot Stamping Dies
When you are using a hot stamping machine, the most important thing is selecting the right die for your artwork. Printers typically use either a metal or silicone rubber die. Metal hot stamp dies can be made of magnesium, copper, brass or hardened steel. Magnesium is the cheapest but least durable metal while hardened steel is the most expensive and most durable. Rubber dies have the advantage of being more flexible for conforming to uneven surfaces. Choose softer rubber for larger, less detailed artwork and harder dies for more detailed designs.

Premium Thermal Transfer Ribbon (TTR) with a paper box packaging

Hot Stamping Process
Whether you are doing large-scale commercial foil stamping or smaller projects at home, you will follow the same basic 6-step process:

Create a custom design to be printed.
Engrave the design onto your die using a die-cutting machine. (Some rubber dies can be etched using a knife.)
Place a sheet of marking foil or ribbon over the area of the item you want it printed on.
Heat up your die and place it in the foiling machine.
Press the die onto the foil. The combination of heat and pressure cause the foil to bond to the item’s surface.
Double-check the result to make sure it came out the way you wanted.
Digital vs. Analog Hot Stamping
More and more companies have started using a digital foil stamping machine – more technically known as a thermal transfer overprinter – for their custom printing. Like almost any method, these have pros and cons compared to traditional “analog” or mechanical hot foil printing. The pros are that digital stamping accommodates more complex designs, switches print codes more easily for short product runs, offers more scalable printing areas and can do intermittent or continuous prints. On the downside, the machines don’t work well with rigid or semi-rigid items. They also have more electronic parts and fewer mechanical ones. This means you are more likely to have to replace broken parts instead of repairing them, which drives up operating costs.